Safe and sustainable transport for rural communities
Safe and sustainable transport for rural communities

The “First Mile” is a figurative reference to the primary segment of transport that links the farmers to the nearest produce collection or consolidation point, or local market. The road infrastructure on this first transport segment often consists of earthen access roads or paths and tracks that are inaccessible to four wheeled vehicles. Means of transport on the first mile vary, from human porterage, animal carts, bicycles and motorcycles, to tractors, pick-ups and small trucks. These modes of transport and the condition of the road can have a significant influence on the quality of crops by the time they reach their destination. For delicate and perishable produce, the first mile is a critical part of the journey to market where crop damage and wastage is highly likely to occur. ReCAP has commissioned research in Kenya and Tanzania to investigate the issue of ‘First Mile’ transport for small holder farmers.

Project Objectives

The main objective of the project is to identify approaches for cost-beneficial improvement of all-season access for smallholder farmers. The expected impact is improved access to markets for small-scale female and male farmers with reduced overheads and improved timeliness.


The fieldwork adopted a mixed methods approach comprising quantitative data collection, using detailed questionnaires across a large sample of the rural farming population, and qualitative data collection, using participatory techniques to engage with communities and stakeholders. The study investigated several issues, including road condition, farm production, transport services, gender and the potential cost benefit analysis of extending motorable roads closer to the farm.

A road condition assessment was carried out using visual surveys, DashCam videos of the roads, use of accelerometers and road roughness assessment.

First Mile transport conditions can be precarious

The research is aimed to support small-scale female and male farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with reduced overheads and improved timeliness.

The research was undertaken in Kenya and Tanzania between 2017 and 2018. In Kenya the study was conducted in Meru and Kithimani where French beans for export are grown. In Tanzania the study was carried out in Matola and Madeke where potatoes and pineapples are the main crops.

Research findings

The research found that initial transport costs and crop losses account for reductions of 30 to 40% of net incomes of potatoes and pineapples in Tanzania. While for French beans in Kenya, the associated reduction in net incomes is 10 to 15%. Head and back loading are many times more expensive, expressed per tonne-km, than by trucks. Another key factor affecting farmers' incomes is the degree of competition amongst buyers, especially in Kenya. Farmers in Meru, where there was one buyer who discouraged the formation of a farmers' association, received approximately half the price for their French beans than those in Kithimani.

Overall the analysis demonstrates the importance of reducing first mile transport costs and the associated crop losses to a minimum. Initial outcomes indicate that tangible cost savings can be made by reducing the length of the first mile (distance from farm to collection point) through low cost engineering measures.

A cost-benefit analysis of first mile interventions was undertaken, and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 47% and a discounted cost benefit ratio of 2.65 was calculated based on a full programme of road investment. For the more remote farms surveyed (those located >1 km from the nearest collection point), bringing collection points 0.5 km closer to the farm would reduce overall manpower burden (head and backloading) by 35%, and reduce overall transport costs by 2.2%. An overall fall in transport charges of 1.7% combined with an elasticity of -2.5% would be associated with an estimated overall rise in net farm incomes of 4.25%.


The study has led to the following recommendations:

  • Local governments need to work with local communities to ensure all season access to areas of high agricultural productivity and reduce the distance between the farms and collection points by extending motorable first mile access closer to the farms.
  • Women who predominantly work on farms need to be supported to gain from the benefits that improved transport infrastructure and accessibility can bring to agricultural value chains.

Project Resources and Reports

Inception report, June 2017

Phase 2 report, October 2017

Progress Statement No 1, February 2018

Progress Statement No 2, May 2018

Phase 3 report, November 2018

Final Report, February 2019

Policy Brief, February 2019

Journal Article: Impact of First Mile Access Improvements on Small-Scale Farming in Kenya and Tanzania, August 2020

Project Team Details

​Robin Workman, TRL This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
​Peter Njenga, IFRTD This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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